I’ve never been entirely clear on the many varieties of fruit desserts, though I love their silly names. Grunt, slump, crumble, crisp. To be honest, I’d rather have pie. Or, better yet, this chocolate cake. Only recently have I begun baking my way through the wide world of fruit desserts with crumbly toppings. It started this summer when my friend (and fabulous baker) Michaela brought over the ingredients for a peach and blueberry cobbler. We worked on the cobbler together in the kitchen while our husbands played with the kids outside. With a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side, it was the best dessert of the summer (and I learned all about the wonders of powdered buttermilk).
That wave carried me into fall where I made plum crumble with ginger ice cream, and that became my favorite dessert of the year. Cobbler for summer, crumble for autumn, and now Tuesdays with Dorie brings a crisp. Despite my newfound love affair with fruit desserts, I still had my doubts. I’ve had crisps before, and I know crisps. In general, I’m not a fan. Even straight from the oven, they have a stale quality, like eating a week-old oatmeal cookie, that leaves me wanting something else.
So I entered this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie challenge with low expectations, and I did what I could to keep it interesting. Instead of using apples and cranberries, I substituted fresh pears, apricots, dried cherries, and golden raisins. And the topping called for a good bit of coconut, which I adore, so this recipe had serious potential.
Not so. The crisp came out of the oven, I let it cool, added a dollop of whipped cream, and tasted. Week-old oatmeal cookie. Big time. I ate a few more bites, then pushed it across the table for my husband to finish.
“You don’t like it?” he asked.
“Eh,” I said. “Not really.” He happily finished my crisp.
Fast forward 24 hours. My husband suggests that we make vanilla ice cream. I pull out The Perfect Scoop and note a few flavors I’ve wanted to try, including toasted coconut. He leaps at the chance, in part because he’s on a mission to prove that he doesn’t hate coconut (god love him). For 17 years, I’ve had a low- to no-coconut rule in effect, because he doesn’t like the texture. He’s ok with coconut milk or coconut flavor in the abstract, but he’s horrified by the little chewy flakes. I, on the other hand, never had a birthday as a child without a coconut cake covered in those divinely chewy flakes.
I hasten to add that this toasted coconut ice cream is steeped in coconut, but the coconut flakes are strained out. So my husband toasted a lot of coconut (and even put a flake or two between his teeth, all the while grimacing like a man gnashing through penicillin), steeped to his heart’s content, then strained every last molecule of solid coconut from that custard. You’ve never seen such a perfectly smooth custard in your life. Let’s just say my husband would have done very well for himself during the gold rush.
At any rate, that evening we pulled out the crisps, again, this time with a generous scoop of toasted coconut ice cream on top (and, in my case, a few extra toasted coconut flakes sprinkled on the ice cream). I’m telling you, it was a revelation. The dessert was amazing. And it dawned on me that all of my new favorite fruity friends — the cobbler, the crumble, and now the crisp — were topped with delicious homemade ice cream. That just may be the secret. Unlocked. Fruit desserts with whipped cream. Eh. Fruit desserts with ginger ice cream, toasted coconut ice cream, or the granddaddy of them all, salted caramel ice cream? Transcendent.
So. A note to all fruit-neutral kindred spirits out there. Before you bake that grunt or slump or crumble or crisp, make sure the freezer is stocked with some interesting ice cream. And marry a man who’s willing to pretend he doesn’t hate coconut, just for you.
Toasted coconut ice cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop
1 cup dried shredded coconut, preferably unsweetened
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Big pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 large egg yolks [I used 4 egg yolks and it was great]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon rum
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring it frequently so it toasts evenly. Remove it from the oven when it’s nice and fragrant and golden brown.
2. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, sugar, and salt and add the toasted coconut. Use a paring knife and scrape all the vanilla seeds into the warm milk, then add the pod as well. Cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. Rewarm the coconut-infused mixture. Set a mesh strainer over another medium saucepan and strain the coconut-infused liquid through the strainer into the saucepan. Press down on the coconut very firmly with a flexible rubber spatula to extract as much of the flavor from it as possible. Remove the vanilla bean halves (rinse and reserve them for another use), and discard the coconut.
4. Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm coconut-infused mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
5. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Mix in the vanilla or rum and stir over an ice bath until cool.
6. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Thanks to Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef for selecting this apple-cranberry crisp that transformed into a pear-cherry crisp with toasted coconut ice cream. You can find the recipe on her site or on page 422 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.